StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Lightening Up in Manhattan

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 10, 2010

So I had to wait around all yesterday morning for the AT&T guy to come fix the DSL line that was downed in the snowstorm that hit New York the week before last. It totally threw me off my game. Mornings are my Tea Lounge writing time. I got almost nothing done at home (I did get an early workout in, though) so it took all day to fish my self-esteem out of the sewer.

And it turns out it was the phone line that snapped, not the DSL cable! So now I have to wait around all day Friday for the Verizon guy. Can’t wait to see what depths my mood will sink to then.

Our house is beautiful but it’s old and dark. By the time I could leave it and get on with my day, I knew that Tea Lounge – which Julius says looks like an opium den, but which is afterglow-luminous compared to our own House of Ushers – would be filled to capacity with freelancers and the hosts of newly unemployed. Cocoa Bar was my only option and it’s pitchy as a charnel ground. Add to it that I would be reading up on Van Gogh in there (read yesterday’s post).

So, as you can imagine, I was running a really positive energy by the time I left Brooklyn for last night’s dharma class at New York Insight Meditation Center in Chelsea. I’d meditated beforehand actually, so my mood was a little better but I still wasn’t 100%.

That is, until I got off the F train at 23rd St and walked up 6th Ave. When you live in New York long enough, it’s hard to see it with outsider’s excitement, but something lit up in me and I saw it with the awe of the proverbial ingenue, stepping out of Penn station with her white gloves, straw hat, and valise. These very same downtown canyons, speckled with the lights of high-rise offices and apartments, were my stamping ground for many years, but now I walked down them with a vigor I did not have in the days when I was dragging myself to and from day jobs, which all too often ran late into the night.

Right there at 24th/6th was the Starbucks where I spent so many mornings, writing for two hours before heading into work at 9. Naturally, my coworkers hadn’t had a morning of creative writing, much less sitting meditation, behind them by the time they ambled into the office. At most, they’d glug down a mug of coffee and set their jaws for battle.

Yes, battle. I don’t know if it’s New York or if I just worked in the wrong places, but I have never seen such rampant office skullduggery anywhere else. The two most common maneuvers I witnessed people making were, one, brandishing bullwhips with little to no cause or, two, keeping their heads down and taking lashes lest they lose their jobs. I was never one to take either tack, but I was both fascinated and freaked out by all the everyday S & M around me.  It was a complete corruption of the lives most people (except bad people of course) deserve to live.  I’m eternally grateful that now I could walk these streets without fresh bruises.

I have a friend named Gina who is getting her masters in counseling psychology at the age of 43.  For many years, she’d worked in similar places and lost many jobs.  She’s not the least bit lazy but, in such enervating environs, her energy would shut down; she’s braved life in third-world countries but she’d catch herself crying on the subway or in the bathroom stalls of her office building in Midtown; she’s extremely thorough in almost everything she does, but she’d make buffoonish mistakes, especially when she’d force herself to buckle down and give the boss everything she demanded.  Now Gina is in school, subsisting on loans, and living in a meditation commune in Williamsburg that she found out about at the organic food co-op she belongs to, even though she’d never meditated before living there. Having seen the other side, she’d rather go to hell than back to where she was.

A couple years ago, when I told her I was considering leaving behind the uncertainty of freelance life and crawling back to the cold comforts of offices like a dog to his vomit, Gina painted a little vignette for me that, if I’m smart, will keep me freelancing forever. At the time, Gina was doing a minimal-commitment internship at CUNY Graduate Center at 34th/5th. According to her, the hallways look like coalmines. Inside the office where she did her project, they kept one solitary plastic plant. After all, they needed at least some semblance of decoration and, as there were no windows, all the real plants they’d tried had died, what with their only sun being the fluorescent ceiling lamps. She said the admin staff’s faces sag with their spirits. When they want to step out for a cigarette or just some fresh air, they have to sidestep the onslaught of pedestrians on 34th and 5th. When they look up, skyscrapers block the sunshine and blue sky.

My life has so much more ventilation now, I could weep with joy just thinking about it. And last night, it was like I was seeing 6th Avenue for the first time. These days, I’m only there once a week for meditation class. And now the city lights were as shiny as sudden revelations.

We started class with a 45-minute meditation. You’re not supposed to hang on to thoughts when you’re on the cushion but I couldn’t help but brood about writing. It was the whole why-can’t-I-write-fiction-these-days bête noire that I’ve been boring my blog readers with for months now. But this time something truly amazing happened.

Now, I’m not the kind of person who has bodhi tree-level experiences when I meditate. In fact, most people who say they do are usually full of shit. For instance, I once worked on a writing assignment with a formerly famous Hollywood actor who claimed to be a Buddhist. (Note: this wasn’t Richard Gere. Trust me, this guy was the furthest thing from Richard Gere.) I was with him all day, every day for a week at his apartment in Los Angeles and never once did I see him meditate. I’d invite him to meditate with me but he’d wander off to the other room and go watch Ellen or whatever. But when we’d be out with his friends, he’d brag about how he was, say, meditating in New Mexico and all of a sudden the sky turned purple and lightning rampaged across the sky and he sat still under these conditions and came to the conclusion that he should direct his career energies toward being on shows like Torchwood or the new Doctor Who.

Okay, I didn’t cause the weather to abruptly change last night. But I feel I got a message: as far as creative writing goes, blogging about my own thoughts and experiences is all I’m supposed to do for now. Now, it’s not like this communication came in words. It’s not like Buddha slipped me a note while I was dutifully breathing. It’s just that I noticed that I was exhausting myself trying to write in genres (fiction, playwriting) in which I was clearly blocked. Moreover, I was devaluing a genre (blogging) in which I wasn’t blocked, in which I could write for hours on end every day and tell much more entertaining stories.

But blogging? That’s so plebian! Anybody can do it! “What about the fine arts?” I’m ashamed to admit I’d been thinking this. In fact, these things have been on my mind for at least seven years, ever since I got that letter from Billy Hunt. He was on the board of a theater in Chicago where I worked for several years. I wrote a play that had a micro-run there, which he couldn’t attend, so I sent him the script. The play was about a young man, who was trapped in a print of a Monet painting that he didn’t wish to leave since this fantasyland stood in such delicious contrast to the replete disappointments of his real life. There were autobiographical elements to the play but it was almost all made-up. However, Billy, who hardly knew me, sent the script back to me with a scathing review, saying it was well written but “what impresses people is imagination” and “this play was so clearly based on your life.” He proceeded to say, “Nobody gives a fuck about your life,” and “find somebody other than yourself, Kyle, in writing…and life!” Shortly thereafter, I left the theater (for reasons that had nothing to do with him) but Billy’s letter has stayed with me, even though I proudly made a mini-bonfire of it before I moved to New York.

Some people say I should have a thicker skinned. But you can’t help what stays with you and what doesn’t. Believe me, I’ve done my damnedest to exorcise that letter with everything from satire to primal scream. But it stuck and I went years thinking I was a lame excuse for an artist if I wrote about my own experiences.  Pursuant to Billy’s letter, I tried living by Toni Morrison’s maxim: “The ability of writers is to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and to mystify the familiar is the test of their power.” But I couldn’t write from the void of unfamiliarity.  And I tried.  I tried.  But the plain truth is that the muse wouldn’t let me. No matter how much I parked my ass in a chair. No matter how much I free-wrote. No matter how much I begged.

And last night’s meditation told me to give up the struggle. Don’t write fiction (unless specifically instructed from within). Don’t write plays (unless specifically instructed from within). Just blog (as specifically instructed from within). As I sat in meditation, I remembered dozens of heroes who had to forfeit one dream in order to be fulfilled beyond their wildest dreams, in ways they couldn’t have imagined when they were entrenched in their former stubbornness. I remembered how Mary Hayes Grieco said, “Humility is taking one’s rightful place in the Universe,” and I knew what the Universe was telling me and I know how I’d wanted to do something which seemed grander but which was going nowhere.  I remembered reading an issue of Poets & Writers a long time ago where one writer said she kept wanting to write an epic of Scandinavia but a little voice in her head kept telling her, “Write about your divorce.” She rebelled and rebelled but the instruction to write a memoir about her divorce, which she had thought so frivolous, did not abate until she surrendered to it. From there, she ended up writing the most meaningful book of her distinguished career and the book sold epically.

So I gave in last night.  I began to breathe easier. I don’t have writer’s block anymore. I guess, in actuality, I haven’t had it in a while. I’ve been blogging. It may (or may not) be an inferior genre, but it’s mine. I don’t even know how good I am at it. But I like it and the words flow and it feels like it’s what I’m supposed to do. You can expect more posts out of me.

After meditating, one of the wonderful instructors, Charmaine Henderson, did a dharma talk on the Jhanas in the Theravada Buddhist tradition in which New York Insight is based.  She mentioned two venerated teachers of Insight Meditation Society founder, Sharon Salzberg: Goenka and U Pandita.  I can’t remember the quote she gave from Sri Satya Nayan Goenka but I did recall that Goenka didn’t start out as a holy man.  He was a businessman who came to the dharma (or, dhamma in Theravada) because he wanted to learn how to meditate to relieve his stress headaches.  (It’s no coincidence that he’s popular among today’s Manhattan practitioners.) But I did write down a quote she gave from Sayadaw U Pandita, a teacher who has been instrumental in bringing Buddhist teachings to the west:

“If you can keep your mind in balance, soothing excitement and lightening up depression, you can be sure that wisdom will shortly unfold on its own.”

This is exactly what I experienced last night.

I felt so much lighter by the time I got back home.  I turned on the news and laughed as I saw that Sarah Palin is telling crowds in Ohio that Isaiah confirms that God has crib notes too.  I clapped and howled with glee when word came that Nancy Pelosi might have already secured the votes she needs for the healthcare package.  I cheered even louder when I heard that Rush Limbaugh said he’ll leave America if healthcare-reform passes (Attention, fellow MoveOn members!  For this reason alone, we need to pass healthcare reform!).

I was back to my old self.

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Greenhorn of Africa (Part Two)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 9, 2009

A New York Navel-Gazer Looks at Botswana, South Africa

and Mozambique by Way of London

By Kyle Thomas Smith


Part Two


August 23, 2009 – Flight from Heathrow to Johanesburg

32nd Image Steve Toltz

8:00 am flight to Jo’burg. Wake up @ 3:30 to get morning pages & meditation done. 11 hr flight. Reading Steve Toltz’s Fraction of the Whole. Genius. Total fucking genius. 320 pages into it, realize author is 7 or 8 yrs younger than me. I despise upstarts/wunderkinds. I live in a city full of them. Put book down forever.

33rd Image Plane over Morocco

Plane cruises over Morocco.

34th Image Judy Dench

Watch Notes on a Scandal. Like movie better than book – much less bombastic. Judie Dench’s character = such a freak. I grew up around inordinate # of sociopaths & narcissists. Know the type.

35th Image Van Gogh Bandaged Ear

Read Barbara Ueland’s If You Want to Write. 80th Anniversary edition or something like that. She hated braggadocio writers almost as much as I do. States disdain for zingy copywriters & precious mag columnists of her day. Loves Van Gogh, Checkhov – sensitivity makes them consummate artists in her book. Thinks D.H. Lawrence a dirty bastard. I happen love them all. Van Gogh’s letters to Theo = heartrendingly exquisite. Will read them again when get back to NYC.

Last couple hours of flight, watch The Who live @ Isle of Wight, 1970. Don’t understand why Isle didn’t get same att: as Woodstock & Altamont. More people were @ it. Documentary not as good, tho. Bored by Who performance until Tommy medley. Come out swinging then. Worth the watch.

(Side note: Excellent Who clip of “Quick One While He’s Away” on The Rolling Stones’ Rock N’ Roll Circus (1968). Variety show reflects Stones’ proclivity for shooting themselves in foot @ height of career, but Who’s performance = stand-out.)

After Nighttime Landing

38th Joburg @ night

Coming to Africa w/o expectations. Jo’burg has one of highest crime rates in world. Waiting for shuttle to Mondior Concorde. Mountain Travel Sobek guide has to ward off encroaching parasitic/unlicensed drivers. Hotel = high security. Told most residential areas = gated = understandable, given theft/murder rates but = tragic, given gates = artifact of apartheid. Room is notch above Spartan; has TV but mostly only S. African variety shows, all in Afrikaans.

J & I go to pizzeria next to Emperor Palace Casino (attached to Mondior) for late-night dinner. Drink wonderful bottle of local Merlot called Fat Bastard – can’t get it in States. Pizzeria playing Queen’s “Bicycle Song.” Never understood Queen’s appeal. (“Under Pressure” = brilliant, but mostly Bowie.) Knew woman who said that, in 70s, her libido went ballistic whenever she saw Freddy Mercury live. Said not even handlebar mustache threw her off. Whaa?! To me, he’s indistinguishable from Village People. Also know African-American woman in Chicago who loved Queen but stopped listening & threw out tapes when she discovered they played Sun City during Apartheid. Will never forget being 11 y.o. & watching them rock Wembley @ Live Aid. But, even back then, didn’t understand why crowd went wild.

40th Image S Af Casino

Walk through Emperor’s Palace Casino – faux marble/plaster Greek & Roman replicas; glinting gold roulette tables; people of all colors, many visibly down-on-luck, growing unluckier by minute @ craps tables. Not joining them.

August 24, 2009 – Botswana

41st Maun Airport

Morning/Early Afternoon

Take early flight on Botswana Airlines from Or Tambo airport in Jo’burg. Exit plane via rolling staircase on arid strip of sand & dust. Trees in distance look like deadwood w/ gnarled branches. Again, coming w/o expectations. Carry bags to customs.

3315016996_72759f8cdc
42nd Image Irish PassportPresent Irish passport, just like I did @ Heathrow & Jo’burg. J’s suggestion. Says if we run into terrorists abroad (think, Mumbai), they’ll seize Americans but let Irish go. But J only has US passport. What’s he expect me to do? Just wipe my brow & say “Bye!” while stands @ gunpoint? Won’t happen in Botswana, tho. Customs is nice here. Everyone files thru w/o incident. Still, it’s clear we’re not in Heathrow anymore. Walls look like they’ve been cracked & graying for centuries, taking on tincture of dust & desert landscape.

43rd Image No. 1 Ladies Detect

Passing thru metal detectors, Julius asks yawning customs officer if she likes No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Guard & I both cock heads. Where hell did that come from? J says show’s set in Botswana. Ah, makes sense now. But in Jo’burg airport, J & I looked up Botswana on Wikipedia & saw has only 1.2 million people. Capital city, Gaborone, has ~ 187,000 people; Maun has ~ 45,000. How much mileage could No. 1 Ladies get out of places that small? Wonder how long show’ll last before runs out of plotlines.

44th Image Charter Flights

Rickety-looking, propeller-driven craft w/ only 8 seats awaits. A 1st for me. Have no idea where we’re heading or what we’re in for. Is this another one of J’s adventure travel schemes? When we first met, he told me that, before becoming lawyer, he wanted to be war correspondent. Added, “I like travelling to parts unknown…places where I can get shot or catch plague.” Shit, he knows I don’t want in on his Deliverance fantasy! Still, he suckered me into it. To top it off, shaven-headed Dutch pilot in green fatigues tells us, “I need everybody to please wear your seatbelts. We’re experiencing a lot of bird traffic & I might have to swerve a lot to miss them.” Fuck! Miracle on Hudson wasn’t that long ago – & that kind of precision landing can only happen once! & that was New York, not the fucking Kalahari Desert! Board small charter flight, strap myself in b/h pilot & close eyes, chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” the whole way.

45th Image View Plane Flying Over Africa

Now & then, my peepers open & spy vast tracts of Africa many thousand ft below. Sometimes J looks over & smiles sheepishly @ me. Am in no mood to smile. Plane hangs in air like string-bound toy mouse, battered by antsy cat’s paw. My wincing face presides over silent Tibetan chant. Try remembering story Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg tells of friend Sylvia Boorstein on moribund plane; she started doing loving-kindness mediation…and shit! Can’t remember rest of story! Of all times to forget! Must be saying this shit out loud. Botswanan woman next to me, who’s probably been on same plane 100 x’s, looks @ me like I’m craziest white man ever.

46th Image Buddha

40 Minutes Later

Land on wilderness airstrip. Open eyes. Still alive! “Thank you, angels, protector spirits, & totem animals! I know this was an ensemble effort!” Botswanan woman laughs @ me. Lean forward & thank pilot who’s been watching me in rearview mirror whole time & got good sense of my faith in his abilities. Gives stone-cold, you’re-not-welcome glare. Don’t care. Just glad to still have all my parts attached.

47th Image Johnny tubu tre

Smiling Botswanan man (~ 5’11”, muscular build, green safari fatigues) on dusty airstrip approaches J & me, introduces himself as Johnny. Helps w/ bags, takes us in jeep.

Kyle Hat Sunglasses Dylan

I reapply copious amts of 50+ SPF sunscreen over face, neck, arms; don wide-brimmed safari hat from bag & tie strings below chin – can’t take chances, am Irish. Johnny looks @ me in much same way as indigenous woman on plane, but, unlike pilot, understands I’m not from these parts.

48th Image Tubu Tree Arid

As Johnny drives us to camp, his jeep fells bare-branched bushes. Goddamn, this jeep can mow down tree-sized bushes!

Elephant maleAntelope Tubu Tree

Passing mastodon elephants, chimpanzees, warthogs & water buffalo. None even care we’re there. Johnny exhorts: “Stay seated in jeep. Don’t stand up.” As long as stay in jeep & don’t stand up, animals won’t view us as predator or prey. Dusty, sandy roads have jeep tracks but wind sweeps dust/sand over tracks every few days & Johnny must make his own way. No prob, he’s from here, knows drill.

20 Minutes Later – Tubu Tree Lodge

Arrive @ Tubu Tree Camp on Okavango Delta. Staff of 5 or 6 natives sings tribal welcome song upon jeep’s arrival. I look down; am not type who digs being fussed over. 2 camp directors stand behind staff, introduce themselves – Justin & Jacky. (From here on out, there are so many J names, I’ll have to reference Julius by full name instead of just “J”.)

Bird Tubu Tree Marsh

56th Image Tubu Tree Grounds

Camp bldgs span ~ an acre. Located in remote region w/ next camp ~ hour away by jeep/boat. Roofs = thatched. Floors = logs. Walls = decked w/ tribal masks, cotton throes, low-hanging talismans.

57th Image Common Area

Common area = spacious; generous spread of sliced breads, iced tea, guava juice, Roibost tea, & plump, floury scones (mouthwatering).

jim_beam_whiteJustin & Jacky take us down deck toward bar area, stocked to rafters w/ Jim Bean, Tequila, red/white/rose wine & spirits. Tell us we can help ourselves if no one’s behind bar. No hard-liquor drinker myself, but still nice to know.

Point to communal bathroom (toilets in cabins too) & tell us, “Monkeys might jump in & join you. What can we say, we share this space w/ them.” Let us know we have to stay on wooden & stone paths @ all times – general rule for camps – lest we wander off into wilds & meet our match. Also let us know hyenas might giggle, lions might roar, elephants might graze, baboons might knock on cabin door or shake coconuts from trees above roof while we sleep. No need for alarm. Nothing more natural. Any probs: blow blowhorn & either Justin or Jacky will come running.

tubu-tree-camp-pic4

Justin walks us to cabin. At least 3 x size of Mondior Concorde room in Jo’burg. Deep Woods bug-repellent incense burns – surprisingly pleasant & meditative. Comfy king-sized bed with 5-star white beddings & plush pillows. Deluxe furnishings belie treacherous landscape, spanning infinite terrain w/ food chain in full swing. Ceiling lights always dim, maybe to create suspenseful jungle feel. Whatever suspense might lurk in fields beyond cabin screens, bet sweet ass I’m sticking to wooden & stone paths.

20 – 25 Minutes Later

After unpacking & settling in, Julius & I wander into common area. 3 other guests – Julia (matronly woman, early 60s, from Melbourne); her husband Graham (retired law professor, now practicing Melbourne attorney); & Giles (taciturn retiree from Sydney). Meeting genteel bunch calms & emboldens me. If they can survive flock-dodging propeller jets & prowling hyenas so far from civilization, so can I! How much danger could there be @ lodge w/ 200-ply sheets?

Coming Up

Tubu Tree Afternoon & Sunset

Tubu Tree Afternoon & Sunset


Thoughts on Faith and RELIGULOUS

Posted in Film, Religion, Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 21, 2008

We saw Religulous last night at BAM Rose Cinema. I can only raise my shoulders and say, “Eh…so-so.”

I appreciate how Bill Maher provided stark evidence for how the story of Jesus’ life is not an original story; in fact, many b.c. myths in the Mediterranean region told similar and often the exact same tales about a virgin birth, a water-walker, an execution, and a resurrection with three female witnesses.

I like how Maher took many of our elected officials (like John McCain) to task for claiming that the founding fathers were Christians when, in fact, they were Enlightenment Deists, many of whom openly abhorred Christianity.

I appreciate Bill Maher’s debunking of gay conversions.

He wasn’t afraid to expose the messages of violence, intolerance, and hatred in the Bible and the Koran.

He wasn’t afraid to abjure certain Muslims who proclaim Islam a religion of peace and love while, at the same time, advocating genocide and Jihad. (This is particularly ballsy when you consider the fates of Salman Rushdie, who narrowly escaped death for denouncing the Koran in The Satanic Verses, and filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, whose throat was cut in Amsterdam, almost to the point of decapitation, for releasing a ten-minute movie called Submission, which depicted violence against women in Islamic communities.)

But most of the time, Bill Maher came off as a cocky bastard, cornering even well-meaning, average Joe members of various religious faiths with gotcha questions. In the past, I have enjoyed his comedy. I agree with many of his political views, though I’m far more on the Democratic than Libertarian side of the leftist spectrum. I have no problem with him being a staunch atheist/agnostic. But, in his iconoclasm, he’s just as dogmatic as many of the people he condemns.

Religious intrusions into government are despicable. Scam-artist preachers deserve full exposure and, in many cases, prison. Rabbis who side with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are meshuga turncoats. Gay conversions: well, let’s just say I busted out my pompoms the day that call-boy called out Ted Haggard for their crystal-meth booty calls and I’ll be the first one to upload videos on Youtube when we find Fred Phelps in a leather bar.

But why should Maher go out of his way to condemn ordinary people who have a deep, abiding sense of spirituality and who find solace in their religions? Why does he have to bully them? He even claims that they’re enabling the destruction of civilization simply for having found spiritual outlets.

Interestingly, he did not seem to come down so hard on the Catholics – the faith in which he was raised, though his mother is Jewish. He spoke to two priests. One was an astronomer who flatly refuted the doctrine of creationism and fundamentalist approaches to the Bible. This priest was Maher’s ally in this regard and they seemed quite chummy. But I sense that Maher would not have found it so easy to stump that learned clergyman with his trademark smirk and touche line of inquiry in the same way he did with the hayseeds, rubes and moron senator in the Deep South. Maybe that’s why he didn’t try. The other priest was a grizzled Good Time Charlie who chuckled with Maher over how loony Catholics can get, treating saints like polytheistic gods, and how an impecunious itinerant like Jesus wouldn’t have established the Vatican of all places.

If he wanted to bust out the Roman Catholic church, he could have found plenty of opportunities. The plethoric scandals surrounding pedophile priests, for example, were left untouched.

As a Buddhist, I wondered what my favorite Buddhist teachers would have to say about Maher’s peacocking bravado. It was then that I went back to the book Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by the wondrous Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg whom I saw lecture for the second time at The Interdependence Project last week. Here is her passage on skillful doubt:

In order to deepen our faith, we have to be able to try things out, to wonder, to doubt. In fact, faith is strengthened by doubt when doubt is a sincere, critical questioning combined with deep trust in our own right and ability to discern the truth. In Buddhism, this kind of questioning is known as skillful doubt. For doubt to be skillful we have to be close enough to an issue to care about it, yet open enough to let questioning come alive.

In the following paragraphs, she speaks directly to the kind of unskillful doubt that Bill Maher manifested in his treatment of the faithful in Religulous:

Unlike skillful doubt, which brings us closer to exploring the truth, unskillful doubt pulls us farther away…this kind of “walk away” doubt manifests as cynicism. Cynicism is actually a self-protective mechanism. A cynical stance allows us to feel smart and unthreatened without really being involved. We can look sophisticated, and we can remain safe, aloof, and at a distance. Maybe we are frightened and hold ourselves apart from life in order to comment on it, rather than grapple with difficult questions…We feel impervious and confident, knowing that we’re not gullible, we’re not going to be swayed…

The tendency to fixate on big, unanswerable questions – “Is there a God?” “How does karma work?” “Was there a beginning to the Universe? was characterized as “a desert, a jungle, a puppet show, the writhing entanglement of speculation” by the Buddha. Our obsessions with such questions would lead only to personal resentments and sorrow, not to wisdom or peace, he said. When feverish disputes on such issues rose up around him, instead of joining in and offering a theoretical answer, he urged everyone to find answers for themselves, in a way that would help them resolve the suffering in their lives. To arrive at that resolution of suffering is the point of skillful doubt.

I saw some informed perspectives in Religulous, but mostly rude, unskillful doubt.

And I don’t want his hectoring ass coming in my room, asking me why I’m on my meditation cushion. It’s none of his goddamn business.

(Note: documentaries that do far better jobs of revealing the disastrous effects of fundamentalism and orthodoxy: Trembling Before G-d, Jesus Camp, Hell House, and Jihad for Love.)